Podcasts   //   September 9, 2021

‘Sometimes marketers get blinded’: Cuisinart’s Mary Rodgers on how the appliance brand stays current

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Cuisinart is generally known for one thing — its food processor — but the company has been expanding its reach in the kitchen for decades.

In fact, the brand is moving beyond the kitchen into new parts of the home. Most recently, Cuisinart launched an air purifier. That makes for a tall order as a brand marketer.

This week on the Modern Retail Podcast, Mary Rodgers, Cuisinart’s director of marketing communications, spoke about how her overall approach has evolved as Cuisinart’s product line has evolved.

Rodgers has been at the company for 25 years. That’s a long time — but her role has only expanded over the years. “The real reason I’m still here is because I work on all these exciting aspects of the business,” she said. “Sometimes when you get in certain companies, you’re very narrow in your field of vision. I like that I have a lot of influence over all of the brand marketing for the company.”

Her scope is quite large. She runs the brand’s DTC business, which in 2018 moved from outsourcing fulfillment to bringing it all in-house. The company purchased a fulfillment center in Arizona and used it as a hub for all of its distribution. It held all the inventory for online orders, as well as handled customer fulfillment for online orders from other retailers. In essence, Cuisinart now controls all of its own distribution. “It tightens up the whole system,” she said, “because we’re not shipping an item to a retailer who is then shipping an item to a consumer — you’re compressing the entire system, basically.”

Beyond that, she controls all the other aspects of brand marketing — which includes well-known channels like search and TV, as well as more experimental channels like TikTok. While Cuisinart is testing out the new app, Rodgers was clear that marketing campaigns must “always tie everything back to strategy.”

Since the early days, Cuisinart has tried to compile as much first-party data as it can about its customers. Today, Rodgers is trying to systematize that even more. One of the big things she’s paying attention to is lifestyle changes. Before, items like Cuisinart were often gifted during big life events like weddings. Now, wedding culture has changed and Cuisinart is trying to find ways to remain relevant.

With that is the main goal and conundrum of her job. “We have to understand the big picture,” she said. “Where are our consumers?”

Here are a few highlights from the conversation, which have been lightly edited for clarity.

“Sometimes marketers get blinded”
“One of the things that we pride ourselves on, when it comes to marketing for the brand, is that we always tie everything back to strategy. Sometimes in the marketing space, people will chase the latest [and] greatest. And that’s something we don’t do. We’re very methodical in the way we go about using new marketing channels, new marketing tools. We’re very forward-thinking — don’t think we’re not — but, on the other hand, we’re very calculating about how we go about how to use the TikTok platform, [for example]. I think sometimes marketers get blinded, and they get so obsessed with whatever the latest thing is — they kind of run off towards that direction and they don’t pay as close attention to the big picture: all of the elements that you need to have aligned.”

Lifestyle patterns are changing
“In the past, we always saw our customer coming to the brand when they were buying a new home, or getting married — getting married was the big trigger. That’s gone. I’m not saying getting married is gone, but my point is that consumers are not taking a direct line through their life through certain milestones that used to exist 10 years ago. Many people are co-habitating, they’re expanding their families. They are sometimes getting married, sometimes choosing not to. So we have to understand the big picture: where are our consumers?

[For example], we know right now a lot of people are moving, so we’re very focused on understanding the needs of consumers who are moving from apartments to homes — or maybe homes [that are] not as close to urban areas. We’re very focused on that because we know that there’s a big difference between when a person lives in an apartment versus when they live in a larger space — that their needs and their inventory of our types of products expands as their footprint expands into a larger space.”

Why there are so few DTC appliance brands
“We launch products, and they stay in the line quite a long time. We’re talking about a product that we’ve been selling since the ’70s. And, we are still selling the classic version, which is a similar model to the earlier ones — they are still one of our most popular items too. So we don’t just like launch items, and then they’re out of the line. We tend to look for long-term growth.

A lot of people don’t realize this, but it’s also extremely expensive to just make the first one. [Appliances are] a very high capital-intensive product category. Non-electrical appliances — like cookware, bakeware, gadgets — those have a low risk, low capital expenditure. That’s why you also tend to see a lot of people in those categories. It’s a lot more expensive to launch a product in the small appliance category just to make unit one. So it’s not the type of business where you just make products to make them and then you’re gonna walk away from them. That’s not an easy thing to do.”